Nel’s form augers well for the Commonwealth Games

Wanda Nel
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Wenda Nel is no stranger to winning South African titles in the 400m-hurdles, but she can be excused if her fifth is the one she will remember for a long time to come as it is the hardest she ever had to fight to be the first across the finish line.

Going onto the lost hurdle at the national championships at Tuks on Saturday, it was no foregone conclusion that she would win as the Tuks-athlete and the 17-year-old world youth champion, Zeney van der Walt (Afrikaans Hoër Meisieskool), were running shoulder to shoulder.

Unfortunately for Van der Walt, she made the slightest of errors going over. Not that it meant the fight to win the coveted title got any less intense. Nel just managed to take the victory on the line winning in 55.01s with the young upstart finishing in 55.05s.

Van der Walt shattered Myrtle Bothma’s South African junior record (55.74s) set in 1983 by 0.69s. She predicted confidently afterwards that she is capable of running an even faster time, hinting that sub-55s is a realistic goal.

Nel praised Van der Walt’s never say die attitude anticipating, actually hoping, that it is not going to be the last of their titanic duels over the hurdles. In the previous six years, the Tuks-athlete has been notching up with monotonous ease one victory after another in local races usually winning by quite a few metres.

The only time Nel was beaten by a South African hurdler was a few years back at the national championships in Stellenbosch, but then she had taken a tumble. In spite of it, she got up to finish second.

“This was one of the toughest races but also one of the most exciting. Last Thursday when I won in a time of 54.96s at the Grand Prix-meeting I was as usual in a lone fight.

“To be challenged the way Zeney has done forced me out of my comfort zone. In the past when I was in such a situation, I was the one to make a mistake, or even worse I just gave up.

“Today (Saturday) I manage to stay focused. That is a big positive I can take from the race going on to compete at the Commonwealth Games.

“The way I executed my race was far from perfect. I was strong in between the hurdles, but my technique was sloppy going over. All that mattered was to be first over each hurdle. In international racing that could cost me,” explained the Tuks-athlete.

Nel proved she is in better form than she was in the past at this stage of the season. She won her last three races running 54.96s, 55.31s and 55.01s.